A few months ago, I got a call from Dr. Paul Hochfeld, who told me he was an emergency room physician from Corvallis, Oregon, and he had a request. Could he come to The Hastings Center to interview as part of a documentary on health care he planned to make? I was curious to know who was financing the film and where it would appear. He said he was financing it with his own money and the help of a few friends, and he didn’t yet have a distributor.
I could hardly turn down someone with that kind of motivation. He came, interviewed me, asked me to suggest other names, and – remarkably enough – got some of the finest minds in American health care, among them Arnold S. Relman, Marcia Angell, and Stephanie Woolhandler. The film is now finished, and it is terrific.
The main theme of the documentary is health care costs. I have come to think the issue of cost control is just as important, even more important, than universal care, but it gets less attention, makes politicians more nervous and even more fuzzy than usual, and is one of the main reasons the number of uninsured is increasing. The film is built around some basic questions about costs, and it proceeds in a masterly was to answer them. Those interviewed come from a variety of medical and health policy backgrounds, and their comments are skillfully woven together. I find it hard to argue against his view that our system is focused more on money than on health and is driven largely by fear.
Dr. Hochfeld is now trying to find a distributor, ideally a public broadcasting station. I have a son who is a movie director, and I have seen him struggle to get his films distributed. I can readily empathize with anyone going through that wrenching process. It is exceedingly hard, for documentaries as well as for movies. Dr. Hochfeld’s documentary is as good as any I have ever seen, including some made during the Clinton era in the mid-90s, when (for the nth time) a reform effort was under way.
For readers of this space, however, there is some good news. Dr. Hochfeld is willing to send a copy of the film on DVD to anyone who writes to him. The offer is not to be passed up, particularly for readers who might use it in a class or discussion group or maybe even tout it to a local PBS station. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. More information and a trailer can be found at www.ourailinghealthcare.com.